home‎ > ‎

Short Stories: The Power of the Mind

Essay Resources

"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allen Poe (1873)

  • Setting: Toledo, Spain (1400's)
  • Spanish Inquisition: the Spanish monarchy tried to eliminate all non-Christians from Spain. They were often hung, burned at the stake, or simply driven out of the country. The prison in the story (in Toledo) is infamous for the cruelty towards its prisoners.
  • Edgar Allen Poe: Deeply disturbed. Experienced difficult life as he was an orphan and later struggled with alcoholism. The heavy drinking is believed to have contributed to his death. There are other rumors surrounding his death. It is supposed that he may have died from any of the following: cholera, rabies, heart disease, as well as a number of other possibilities. His stories focused on very dark topics, almost always examining a psychological fear. This story differs from many of his other stories because there is actually hope at the end. For more information, click here

Pit and the Pendulum Rap

"Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy?" by Tim O'Brien

  • Setting: Vietnam War (1960s/1970s)
  • Main character: Private First Class Paul Berlin
  • Billy Boy Watkins: dies of a heart attack
  • Toby "Buffalo": soldier who befriends Paul Berlin
  • Some Facts about the Vietnam War: (courtesy of Elements of Literature: Fourth Course text book)
    • 1965: First American troops sent to Vietnam
    • 2.6 million: total number of Americans who served in Vietnam
    • 1973: Year cease-fire declared
    • $150 billion: Money spent by the U.S. government for direct costs
    • 1.6 million: Vietnamese killed
    • 58,000: Americans killed
    • 300,000: Americans wounded
    • 2,300: Americans missing or presumed dead
    • 33%: percentage of homeless Americans who are Vietnam veterans (estimated)
Full Story Online - (Book Questions at the end)

BILLY BOY - American Traditional
(for question #2 on HW)

Oh, where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife; she’s the joy of my life;
She’s a young thing, and cannot leave her mother.
Did she bid you to come in, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Did she bid you to come in, charming Billy?
Yes, she bid me to come in; there’s a dimple on her chin;
She’s a young thing, and cannot leave her mother.
Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Can she bake a cherry pie, charming Billy?
She can bake a cherry pie quick’s a cat can wink his eye;
She’s a young thing, and cannot leave her mother.
(Repeat first verse.) (End.)

"The Bet" by Anton Chekhov

Setting: Russia - 1870-1885
The Banker: wealthy, bets that the lawyer cannot spend five years in solitary confinement
The Lawyer: Takes the bet, but agrees to stay in solitary confinement in a small house for 15 years. The prize is $2 million from the banker.

Anton Chekhov: 1860-1904. Considered one of the best short-story writers of all time. Besides writing, he was also a doctor. He wrote plays, as well as short stories, but focused more on short story writing after one of his plays received terrible reviews. While he was writing, the Romanov dynasty ruled Russia (1613-1917). 80% of the Russian citizens were poor and illiterate. Since Russia is so huge, communication between people was difficult and therefore, many were isolated from extensive human contact. Also, the Russian winters were extremely brutal, which made travel difficult. (Sources: Elements of Literature: Fourth Course and Wikipedia)

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce

American Civil War - a bridge on Owl Creek - Northern Alabama
Main Character: Peyton Farquhar
Premise: A southern man is hanged for interfering with the railroad bridges by the northern army. He then escapes to safety...or does he??

This story was made into a short film and shown on the television show, "The Twilight Zone" in 1964.